A world shrouded in mystery makes The Solus Project a survival game worth your time.
**Note: this review is based one the first chapters of The Solus Project as provided by Steam Early Access/Xbox Game Preview. For that reason, consider critiques and the final score provisional.**
Whether you’re fighting in a zombie apocalypse in Day-Z or living amongst dinosaurs in ARK: Survival Evolved, it’s hard to deny the survival genre’s place in mainstream gaming culture. Despite that, The Solus Project manages to stand out amongst the rest by making survival feel less like a game mechanic and more like a necessity.
As the sole survivor of a ship explosion, you’re thrown into an unknown planet totally ill-equipped for survival. Luckily, using scraps of your ship and even some of the planet’s natural resources, you can quickly craft survival essentials like sharp rocks and torches aid you as you explore the planet’s lush beaches and complex caverns.
As you explore the caves, you’ll find running water and even small edibles that will sustain your hydration and calorie count, which will keep you in good health. Although the caves seem somewhat innocuous at first, soon you begin stumbling upon alien-like structures that raise questions about just how alone you truly are.
The game’s writing doesn’t go out of its way to make you uneasy, but after finding alien scripture and design, every ambient sound in the game’s tunnels and caverns made me turn around for fear of being followed. In these moments, I feel as though I’m telling my own story — something that is hard to do in linear games.
Another thing that prevents the game from feeling too scripted is the inventory management system. Throughout the game, you’ll need to maintain supplies in your backpack to prevent dehydration, hunger or freezing to death. Scrounging around for supplies in between objectives feels like a good break from the plot and makes living on an alien planet feel real. Along your way, you’ll stumble on supplies that will change up the way the game plays. One of my favorite tools is a teleporter that fires small discs in the distance. Once the discs land, you can teleport to the their location. While it has a limited range, it kept puzzle sections from becoming stale in later chapters.
Not all of the game’s mechanics are as fun as the teleporter, though. At one point in the game, Solus Project abandons the “go here and search for this item” structure and tells you to explore for pieces to a satellite so you can send a signal home. Walking around wherever I wanted in a small open-world environment is an exciting way to take the story off rails, but it was made frustrating by requesting I collect no less than 17 pieces for the satellite. Suddenly my desire to press forward in the game was minimized. I was no longer searching for clues about the alien species that once inhabited the planet, I was sitting in an office chair playing a video game in my apartment. The immersion was broken.
Despite the one entirely mundane quest design, I still found myself engulfed in Solus Project’s world. Finding clues of past civilizations that inhabited the planet or even snooping on dead crew mates personal notes that scatter the island gave the game a great sense of solace. While there isn’t any genuine horror in Solus Project, the whole notion of being alone on a planet where everyone who once lived here is either dead or gone makes the risk of survival frightening.
Although the early access version of The Solus Project is a bit on the short side, it’s easy to recommend the game for it’s stunning world and engaging survival mechanics. The game certainly asks many more questions than it answers, but the mysterious nature of the game will likely keep you engaged from start to finish.
Despite some faux pas regarding objective structure in the middle of the game that make for a bit of a slog, feeling like you’re conquering a alien world keeps the dopamine flowing makes The Solus Project a thrill to play.
The Solus Project was reviewed on an Xbox One press copy courtesy of The Solus Project team.
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